Greenside@Nicholson Square, Edinburgh
August 13, 2019
Guan Yu is a respected Chinese historical figure know for his patriotism, loyalty to country and friends, bravery in war and such like. The Solitary Journey of Guan Yu (干独行里) by Lee Wushu Arts Theatre of Malaysia tells of him winning wars, but then losing one at Maicheng, being captured and executed. Told through flashback, we are also shown the bridge that separates the earthly and spirit world, an oath sworn at the Peach Garden and him riding for thousands of miles with only his Green Dragon Sabre for company.
Choreographer Lee Swee Seng (李劲松) is a fine, athletic dancer, although he doesn’t communicate much with his face and is strangely more expressive with his back to the audience. His opening dance with a sword is especially fierce and dramatic. He also makes two glove puppets who fight each other really come to life.
It’s all accompanied by some excellent live percussion and soulful music from Thing Yoong How (唐勇豪), who also provides the spoken text.
With its wushu (martial arts dance), glove puppetry and drumming, it’s an interesting window in various Chinese dance and art forms not often seen in the UK but it was all undermined by its struggle to communicate narrative. A detailed synopsis was provided but it was only available at seat, and the show started almost immediately giving no chance to read it. There is some spoken text that explains what we are seeing, but it’s in Chinese, and while it’s also in the programme, there is no simultaneous translation. It all left one as alone as Guan Yu.
The lighting was also problematic with several harsh changes. At times, it felt like a technical rehearsal.
Fine dancing, fine music but ultimately disappointing and an opportunity missed.
The Solitary Journey of Guan Yu has completed its run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.